Thursday, June 30, 2011

TODAY'S CHILD IS INDEED THE FATHER OF MAN!

WHEN WILLIAN WORDSWORTH PENNED THOSE LINES, IT WAS A DIFFERENT WORLD. TODAY, IN A DRAMATIC ROLE-REVERSAL, KIDS ARE TRULY THE BAAP IN THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS, DRIVING INDIA'S CONSUMPTION IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS.

Once upon a time, children were bhagwan's den – little, cute and cuddly bundles of joy designed and created to provide parents and their immediate orbit, joy unlimited! Sweet & lovable, they were meant to be seen, not necessarily heard. Their lives were chalked out and monitored closely by their all-knowing parents and mostly circled around a simple, uncomplicated, predictable activity base. They were not meant to challenge status quo or step out of line. And their opinions, if any, were usually dismissed with bemused indulgence. Didn't Mama and Papa know what was best for their off springs? What would kids know anyway about life?

Effective the '90s, there has been a cataclysmic shift in this idyllic playpen. The bachcha has suddenly morphed into miniature adult and started making uncomfortable noises, which are taking on dangerous surround – sound dimensions! Statistics indicate that today, some 400 million kids (below the age of 15) are new-age India's most conspicuous consumers lapping up a range of products and services that include – not just Barbie dolls and toys – hi-end gadgets, phones, clothes... you name it! Powering an astounding Rs.4.5 trillion market, this gigantic constituency (who make up 20% of the world's youth space) is on a red-hot turbo-charge mode! But what happened to the world of sweet kids being led along the path of follower-ship? Is their world of bachchelog parties, ice-cream & colas, fancy birthday cakes & cute games over?

As the genius author and film-maker Woody Allen once said about startling generational changes that ambush the na├»ve, uninformed, blinkered and unguarded people, “While you were sleeping, lotsa things have changed, Pops!” And that is god's truth, with economic reforms being the single biggest catalyst. This dramatically altered the very contours of the way we live and interact with the world around us and willy-nilly, propelled child-into-client zone! Technology, here, has been the greatest driver. The Internet, TV and Mobile, for example, have transformed a hitherto simple, tunnel-viewed, limited-focus constituency into a sharp, clued-in, consumer-products-friendly group that constantly raises its hands to be counted and be vocal about brand knowledge and preferences based on facts!

The insightful marketing expert and social commentator Santosh Desai hits the nail on the head with his sharp observations. “Today's kids articulate desire more openly, candidly and innocently than any other segment because they are unburdened by personal memories of a scarcity-plagued yesterday. Hence, in the family unit they play a critical role as navigators through the shining, unfamiliar world of choice, newness and – most importantly – abundance. They are arbiters between the older generation and the new and give the rest of us a map on which to plot our new selves. Fluent in the language of technology and consumption, (the two biggest drivers of behaviour of today's India) they exude a worldliness that the older generation are unfamiliar with and find useful, It also helps that the parents of today are the first generation that sees self-conscious parenting as a job that needs to be accomplished,” Desia tells 4Ps B&M.

Social psychologist Ashish Nandy takes the case forward. “Desai is absolutely right! The profile of today's parents have drastically changed to allow this shift,” says Nandy. He elaborates, by explaining that unlike the previous generation's template of presumptive wisdom and effortless knowledge-of-the bones instinctive parenting, for this generation parenting is a very serious task; it needs to be constructed with care and precision. This means that a child's desire is heard with greater attention. Overall, the child is seen as a performer who needs investment, training and personalized attention. The easiest way to fill up the gap between parental ambition and performance is invariably through acts of consumption. “The child is constantly being equipped for the road ahead and the equipment takes a variety of forms,” adds Nandy.

Mumbai-based Meera Gupta, a veteran artist, however is unmoved and believes too much is being made of Pester Power, today's whiz kids and modern-day parenting. The mother of two grown-up kids aged 15 & 12, who comes from Ranchi says that “like our local hero M.S. Dhoni, I say, keep it simple and concentrate on the basics! Sociologists, Psychologists, Behavioral Scientists... kids, parenting and their interaction with the world has suddenly become a hysterical spectator sport! Why on earth is it so complex & complicated? Sure, today's world is different from the ones we grew up in, but any sensible, responsible, intelligent and evolved parent must know how to de-code it for the kids, in a way that is meaningful.” In other words, this big hoo-haa about children pestering their parents to buy stuff on influencing purchase patterns across categories is apparently hugely exaggerated! Admittedly, today's kids are much more clued-in about products and services, “but their making life hell for their parents through badgering or muscling in with opinions relating to brand preferences are, mostly media hype,” says Meera. Love them, trust them, mentor them intelligently and kids perhaps should turn the right path without developing complexes.

Strong words, but is it that simple in a space increasingly blitzed by information over-kill riding on mouth-watering seductive, media avenues and technology? Ad veteran Esha Guha believes that Meera is just spectacularly lucky, brilliant – or being too naive and simplistic. “Sure, there are exceptions, but even if you forget the media hype, studies, reports and surveys, a look at the world around us is proof enough. Today's kids are different , influenced as they are by the environment. They do have their own ways to get what they want and their knowledge-base on technology-driven products are far superior to their parents, which often acts as a clear advantages. As for love, trust and all that... the battle with technology will be a tough one!” Esha tells 4Ps B&M.

Brand Specialist Anmol Dhar offers his own expert take. “Marketers have closely seen this paradigm shift both in the profiling of new-age parents and kids and continue to be hugely excited by it! With the emergence of this new phenomenon, KGOY – Kids Growing Older Younger – the market for entrepreneurs just got larger. From kids wear to fashion, toys to beauty care, a clutch of brands are consciously targeted towards the 0-15 age group. We live, clearly, in an age of brands and perception is the new reality,” says Dhar. Advertisers, hawk-like haven't missed a beat. Noticing the rise n' rise of the universe, children are featured prominently across areas as diverse (and unthinkable) as financial planning and insurance, acting not as dumb and obedient recipients of adult-gyaan but know-alls teaching the oldies a trick or two!

So, at the end of the day, this is indeed a turbulent transition and maybe an objective review is in order. Should more time be spent with your digital child, so that along with his cyber muscle, creativity and imagination are also addressed? Should one be more judicious about basic decisions like whether your child really needs a phone at age 8? Finally, introspect. Are we giving and expecting too much in this new-age parent-child jugalbandi? Were our parents ever expected to play the combined role of father, guardian, tutor, moral police, friend, guide, mentor, cheer-leader in this deadly game of reward and expectation?

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

AXING OF ADS!

DOES INDIA INC. NEED SUCH REGULATORY DIKTATS?

On one hand, the popular war cry amongst marketers world over has been – sex sells! On the other, morality remains a tricky issue, and the reasons are simple. What is immoral to one, can be a hilarious howler to another! The issue gets more complex when one recognises that we live in several Indians simultaneously, where thinking, mindset, environment, family background & values, education levels, circumstances, peer groups/pressure & stage of evolution as a person, influence one's take on morality. It is clearly not value judgement but the big picture – which is about recognising, understanding & then interpreting any specific issue – is the prime focus. Same with the notion of morality. However, some basic norms (insist pundits) must be adhered to and this patthar-ki-lakeer zone, must never be tampered with by the consumerists; must never be compromised, commercialised, trivialised or absued. Like what is happening in the outrageous Deo-TV ad space, for example? According to the powers-that-are, these ads provoke libidous male instincts, arouse women's sexuality, show women & men to view each other with lust, and also motivate women to undress as an after effect of the sexy deo in an inappropriate, obscene & cheap manner!

SO WHAT'S GOING ON?

Before playing Judge n' Jury, or frothing at the mouth, let's take a ppep at some of these ads in question. Let's start with a Wold Stone TVC. It's a typical Bengali Pooja Pandal scene. An attractive young hunk passes a sultry, dusky bong-belle on her way to the diety. Suddenly, she's struck by his deadly deo, swoons, swirls around to lock eyes with the guy. A passionate (un-holy?) quick ie follows, after which (suitably ful-filled) the young lady, in a super stup out, moves away. The tagline reads: Wild By Nature! Another one shows a young, lovely girl innocently playing bBlind Man's Bluff, with a bunch of happy, excited kids. Suddenly a young lady is instantly zonked, forgets the kids. Suddenly a young dude, wearing another deadly deo, accidentally opens the door. The young lady is instantly zonked, forgets the kids & the game, and not so blindly follows the guy to his room. The tagline reads: It Happens!

The popular Axe deodorant ads, where women keep collapsing while confronted with the seductive spray, are too well known to warrant repetition but the one that seems to have got the mickey of the politically correct purists is the one that has the bhabhi go weak kneed while sowing a button on her bewildered, deo-sprayed devar's shirt getting into some rather un-bhabhi like body language! The tagline reads: Just Zatak Her! The list is endless, with seduction as the main driving force. Question is – are these ads really the dangerous weapons of destruction, created to poison & corrupt innocent, impressionable minds, denigrate & commodify male & female bodies as objects of desire... or are they just quirky, edgy, naughty, fun snapshots of the times we live, created to entertain, surprise & delight in a provocative manner to a new-age viewership totally comfortable in their skin?

Theatre Person and Branding Specialist Sumit Roy is up next and believes that if it's legal and follows the guidelines, it's okay. “Regarding laws & diktats, that's the easiest thing to do because to protest or politicise an issue seems to be the flavour of the day,” adds Roy. Ad Filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar agrees as he tells 4Ps B&M, “Suddenly, everyone, everywhere appears to have got this new lovely toy to take panga with anyone or anything they need to get even! It's mostly too silly or trivial to even discuss. Same with bans. But yes, I have to agree that some deo ads indeed push the ticket a little too hard.”

Entertain, surprise and delight? These are not typically ads, and are closer to porn.” This outraged salvo comes from Delhi-based housewife Kusum Malhotra. The 35-year-old mother of two kids is shocked & angry at what goes in the name of manoranjan. Mumbai-based MNC executive Coyel Ghosh however can't stop laughing, “One has to chill! Its's the year 2011 and not actually 1947. Where does this 'scandalised' lot live – in caves, jungles, another planet? And where is their sense of humour? These ads are just light-hearted, clutter busting, and totally over-the-top, for effect! Why take it so seriously and make it a moral isise?” Coyel tells 4Ps B&M.

Veteran ad-watcher Arvind Godbole attempts to bring order out of chaos. “It's bewildering! On One hand you have people wishing to sue companies! On the other hand, there is this huge over-reaction from the purists. If Sheila Ki Jawani, Dum Maro Dum, Munni Badnam Hui, Jalebi Bai and zillions of item songs are titillatingly celebrated on the silver screens every other week with nodoby offering a word in protest, then why this sudden grab for the chastity belt?” asks Godbole.

As always, it's a tough nut to crack because morality is finally a subjective issue. Allan Collaco, Secretary of ASCI, has referred to at least seven ads – including Axe & Set Wet Zatack – under the scanner for improper portrayal of women. “The Consumer Complaint Council will decide on the action to be taken soon,” says Collaco. This magazine ran an incisive story on ASCI and how it was going over the top and beyond even its allowed legal norms in attempting to control certain ads.

Truly, there's much that the Indian government needs to regulate – from insider trading to unfettered private equity participation, from corruption to black money... It's quite obvious that attempts to regulate fair weather advertisements should have perhaps not even been taken up. India, clearly, doesn't need regulation like this – that too by self-appointed moralists!

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

IN CONSUMERIST INDIA 2011, BRAND LG MORE TRUSTED THAN BRAND BAPU!?!

Early this year a report, “The Brand Trust Report, India Study, 2011” was published by Trust Research Advisory (TRA), a leading research organization dedicated to understanding and simplifying concepts related to 'Trust' Based on responses collected from approximately 2,300 participants spread across 9 metros mini-metros of India, the results showcased the level of trust every individual has in these brands. “As many as 61 individual components were identified by TRA which were then grouped into 10 composite descriptions like competence, sincerity, respect, empathy, enthusiasm, responsibility, et al” TRA's CEO N. Chandramouli tells 4Ps BM. After all, 'Brand Trust' is defined as the soul of the primary bond of engagement. However, “over time, the more evident connotations of trust like pedigree, size, performance, et al, have changed and the subtle forces are beginning to extert their influence on Brand Trust,” adds Chandramouli

Well, the results too are astounding! It's dramatically clear (through the study) that consumerism rules and what India trusts most, amazingly, are brands they use extensively or are totally familiar with. So, Nokia, TATA, Sony, Samsung & LG tops the list (and in that order). Even superstars Sachin Tendulkar (52nd rank) and Aamir Khan (242nd rank) feature and... er... are way ahead of an old toothless gentleman by the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi! So, 2011 'Brand Gandhi' is slung out by not only Finish phone makers and Korean consumer electronics major, but also sports and film celebs! Is it that brand Gandhi is finally losing out to Nokias, Lgs and Samsungs of the world?

To answer this, Shyam Benegal is first of the block. He laughts loud and long and is convinced that what the TRA guys need is not a sane response but the number of some very dependable shrinks! “To begin with the comparison is ridiculous. A brand reflects commodification and deals squarely with the equations with the marketable product and its consumers in the backdrop of market forces. Gandhi is hardly some one who can be promoted, positioned or marketed along those parameters because he didn't represent any monetary value. What he stood for (and died for) can hardly be compared with what Nokia, Airtel, Sachin or Aamir stand for. He will always remain a symbol of something much larger – human values that enriched and empowered for all time,” Benegal tells 4Ps B&M. Social commentator Santosh Desia too agrees as he says, “I think these surveys can never be taken seriously. To compare to apostle of nonviolence with Nokia and Amir is bizarre and totally trivialises the whole issue beyond measure. It suggests that any and everything can be branded and they must be judged on the parameter stated. To me it appears nothing more than a populist time-pass venture which no serious or sane person would look at twice!”

Theatre personality & Ad-man Bharat Dabholkar is convinced that it represents a giant step … in the wrong direction! “Does it make sense to compare timeless icons with brands? One is an everyday consumable item, which is constantly being appropriated to appease a hysterically voyeuristic audience base. It obviously taps into people who are more curious and knowledgeable about SRK & Katrina Kaif than Nehru & Gandhi. For them, Gandhi is … Ben Kingsley!” says Dabholkar.

Columnist and writer Anil Dharker however disagrees. He believes that in this information-overkill age, where self-absorptions rules & attention-span threshold is shrinking by the second, where out of sight is out of mind, this is bound to happen. “I believe it's less about reverence and more about an immediate connect. Also it's unfair to go misty eyed about the past and pronounce value judgment because back then there was no insane media-glare and the slow pace allowed for repose, respect and nostalgia. Today in these savage heretoday-gonetoday times, unless anything or anyone is marketed aggressively, it disappears.. and that includes Gandhi. It is clearly a sign of the times and there is no reason to get hyper or overreact. The survey had an agenda. Gandhi fitted in the slot. Period,” Dharker tells 4Ps B&M.

Political journo Paranjoy Guha Thakurta wraps up this debate with a telling take: “To place Gandhi alongside Nokia and Samsung speaks more about the people behind the survey, the agenda & context and the sample-base profile than Brand Gandhi. Besides, to compare a revered and globally respected figure with inanimate objects is something too ridiculous to even discuss. If these are the results emanating from, say-elitist, metro/urban types, that what can one expect from masses!”

Over to you, dear readers...

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Recruitment Marketing - Adland's Stepchild ?

Recruitment Marketing has always been Critical and All-Pervasive, Across Dedicated Supplements and Special Pages in Major Publications. however, it has never Seemed to Enjoy a Fraction of Respect, Glamour or Importance Provided to other Categories. Why? Our Consulting Editor Spews Fire :-)

It was the recent Remmy (Recruitment Marketing) Awards that prompted this piece. To most communication professionals, this is a category that certainly exists, but is seldom noticed or talked about. As an acerbic ad-tracker puts it “It is advertising of a very special kind, but for some inexplicable reason, never accorded the attention, respect, importance or inputs forever reserved for FMCGs or the new glam categories – Retail, Real Estate, Healthcare, Education – on the block.” Sad, because there is a lot one can do, but a lethal combination of ignorance, tunnel-viewed mindset and blind obsession with the stereotypical hi-profile products and services have kept the category at the fringe. Goafest and Abbys are hot ‘n’ happening, but how many have heard (or care) about Remmys?

Film, theatre & ad-maverick Bharat Dabholkar is first off the block and agrees to the fact as he tells 4Ps B&M, “I have always been intrigued by this complete lack of interest, initiative or imagination (from a totally creative-driven calling like Advertising) relating to this genre. Do the clients believe that by infusing creativity – engagement, art, emotion – wrong signals will be sent out, making the communication frivolous and eroding the seriousness of the intent? Rubbish!” Dabholkar reminds the killjoy that they forget is that the target group (potential candidates and employees) are first human beings with all the natural emotional responses to any piece of communication in place. They’d be only be too happy to connect with anything that provides the surprise-and-delight factor as value-addition to the main focus. “The everyday, boring, stereotypical recruitment ads are not based on truth, facts or survey results, I can bet,” Dabholkar insists.

Siddharth Ray, Executive Director of Kolkata-based Response, takes the case forward. “We live in an age of branding: brand architecture, brand image, corporate image... in this scenario, I can’t think of a more effective communication tool than this category to project a solid corporate image for organisations,” says Ray. He regrets the dismissal of recruitment advertising by the adfrat who insist on consistently re-affirming the stereotype. “I think in most cases, the advertisers must take the rap, because it is clearly their call. If they have no faith, belief, understanding, insight or knowledge in factoring-in their profile in an interesting, exciting or persuasive manner, how on earth can they ever expect to attract the brightest & bright talent?” adds Ray. Reason: Unlike earlier times, the profile of both the candidate and companies have undergone a dramatic change. Today’s brand-conscious, sharp, savy & confident MBA and IITian – with soaring ambitions and wide choices – is definitely looking for top-class corporate credentials. In that context, this genre is a huge, untapped goldmine ignored due to mindset, ignorance or disbelieving that this is a lesser or unfashionable form of Corporation-Employer-Employee connect.

Veteran Praful Daftari dismisses Ray’s argument with his very own take. An ex-communication consultant with PSUs, he lays on the line, “Let’s get some facts straight. In this Bingo-Pepsi-Coke-Cadbury-Mcdonald’s driven adspace, people are used to a kind of FMCG advertising that is totally entertainment-based. Recruitment advertising is very serious business with neither the time, space, scope nor requirement for anything frivolous. It has a job to do and does it in a direct uncomplicated focussed business-like manner.” Daftari believes that this hue ‘n’ cry has basically arisen because of “this new disease called creativity!”

Leo Burnett’s India supremo Arvind Sharma offers a dispassionate and objective view. “Recruitment advertising, by nature, is direct and does not require great chunks of creativity & brainstorming. However, when there is a competitive scenario or a me-too situation, out-of-the-box thinking is called for and this is when the challenge & opportunity combination comes into play. So basically it is about what is the message, who are you addressing, what is the tone of voice and what is the desired result. So, different strokes for different folks, I guess,” Sharma tells 4Ps B&M.

The last words are provided by Ujjal Sinha, CEO of Kolkata-based Genesis Advertising. He offers an interesting perspective tracing the changing face of recruitment advertising. “It has always been the advertiser’s call. In the good old days, recruitment ads came into the Tender Notice category. Both did what they were meant to. With the advent of digital and skyrocketing publication rates, both zoomed to the net. Unfortunately, recruitment ads never readily took off in that space, like tender notices. Today, in a world of fierce competition, where talent shortage is chronic, advertisers have no choice but resort back to mainline publications-but with a difference: instruct their Ad agencies to do cutting edge stuff. Think of these exercises as FMCG products and power them with the same amount of creativity, imagination and seduction,” says Sinha. Well, change certainly is in the air, for the ones who have chosen to reinvent this genre of communication!

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